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Zelenskyy: World "Must Act" To Defeat Russian "Aggressor"; Trudeau Alleges India Possibly Tied To Sikh Leader's Death; 5 Americans Freed From Iran Arrive In U.S.; Inside Wagner's Criminal Organization In Africa. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 19, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: We just heard stark words from Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at the United Nations hoping to rally support for his country in the face of Vladimir Putin's brutal invasion. He warned fellow leaders that today is Ukraine, but tomorrow it could be you as Russia pushes toward what he called the final war.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Please, hear me, let unity decide everything openly. While Russia is pushing the world to the final war, Ukraine is doing everything to ensure that after Russian aggression, no one in the world will dare to attack any nation. Weaponization must be restrained, war crimes must be punished, deported people must come back home and the occupier must return to their own land. We must be united to make it and we will do it.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: So President Biden addressed the General Assembly before that this morning and there were many similar things. He was underscoring some of the same themes that we just heard there from Zelenskyy. The two leaders, in essence, saying that Ukraine's fate is going to determine all of our fates.

We have our Jim Sciutto there at the following every bit of this, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: No question. You'll hear a lot of empty phrases sometimes from the podium at the U.N. General Assembly, policy proposals, cliches. This was not that. It was a powerful message. It was a scary message, an impassioned one and one that comes at a perilous time, not just for Ukraine, still more than a year and a half into the bloodiest war in Europe since World War II, but also, President Biden and others argue, for democracy around the world under attack, being stress-tested, in effect, not just overseas, but also here in the U.S.

With me at the U.N. is CNN Chief, International Anchor, Christiane Amanpour. Also joining us, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, joining us from Washington. Christiane, first to you. And you and I were speaking about this. This was a moving speech. It was an impassioned speech that can only be delivered by the leader of a country such as him, whose country is going through a horrible war.

He accuses Russia of genocide. He accuses Russia of weaponizing food, nuclear power plants. Did his message hit the mark today?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I think it hits the mark whenever he speaks. If you notice, he did it in English. This is a whole new education of Zelenskyy. As he knows, he keeps having to refine and really focus his message, knowing that it's going on for a long time. And it's quite hard to keep an alliance together.

President Biden, President Zelenskyy are the wartime alliance leaders, fighting down autocracy, fighting for democracy and the rules of the international world order. That is the big picture of these speeches. The slightly smaller picture, but nonetheless more equally important, is Zelenskyy has to go to Washington, has to keep persuading Capitol Hill to keep up this support.

But it's really, really important and the way he put it was incredibly, I think, powerful and accessible. People can understand what he's saying. And as you said, this is the bloodiest war, potentially, although it's not the first war. I covered the Bosnian War.

SCIUTTO: Of course.

AMANPOUR: It's the same playbook, Serbian aggression against a smaller nation that wants independence and its own political and cultural identity. The Serbs tried to stop it. And the reason why it's important is because this building was incapable of ending that war and so far has proved unable to be able to convene any kind of end to this current war, mostly because, guess what, the whole Security Council is fractured.


AMANPOUR: Biden was there. The only world leader of the Permanent Five, no Putin, no Xi, no Macron and no Sunak.


AMANPOUR: What does that say?

SCIUTTO: Well ...

AMANPOUR: It says that at least they are committed to trying to stop this.


SCIUTTO: No question. Russia's position on the Security Council means that, in effect, the U.N. cannot and has not acted ...

AMANPOUR: That's right.

SCIUTTO: ... decisively ...

AMANPOUR: That's right.

SCIUTTO: ... in the face of this war. And again, of course, using many of the same tactics you witnessed in the 1990s in Yugoslavia, targeting civilians deliberately.

Kurt Volker, you understand this very well, given your service through the years. Has the U.N. gotten any better at handling this? Because part of Biden's message, right, was to make the case for international organizations such as the U.N. that they still have a place today, and not just to end the war there, but for climate change and other challenges, food security for the global south.

He was making an impassioned plea there, but in large part because those organizations and agreements are under threat.

KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, that's exactly right. And I think President Biden is absolutely right that these multinational institutions are important on a range of very functional and technical issues. But when it comes to international peace and security, we have a fundamentally broken structure.

We have a Russia and a China that sit on the U.N. Security Council, who are themselves the sources of aggression in the world today. So - and as long as that remains the case, we're not going to have a functional U.N. Security Council.

I think in this case, we're going to have to see change in Russia. We've seen Russia launch a war of aggression. We've seen them commit what appears to be genocide. We've seen them certainly commit war crimes in their actions in Ukraine. And this is not the actions of a country that belongs in the U.N. Security Council.

And as President Zelenskyy said in his comments yesterday to the media, this is a problem not just for Ukraine. This is a problem for the world. How can we have a United Nations that has a country like Russia still there with a seat in the U.N. Security Council and a veto even?

SCIUTTO: It's CNN's reporting, as you know, Christiane, that Russia is waiting out the upcoming U.S. presidential election in 2024 and that there's no perception that Russia will sit down at a negotiating table prior to that or perhaps even after, but certainly not prior to that because holding out hope Putin is for a more fungible, malleable leader, U.S. leader in the White House.

When you speak to European officials, what is their nervousness about the change?

AMANPOUR: Huge. I would say the nervousness is on an off-the-chart scale. They cannot even contemplate another four years of what they went through four years ago. And this is really dramatic, particularly with these massive issues, not just a war in Europe and who knows where President Trump would come down on it, we kind of know, but also climate and inequality and all of that stuff.

As Ambassador Volker said, Putin has been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for a number of war crimes, including the kidnapping and abduction of children. That is to change and obliterate Ukraine's identity. That's a genocidal thought and it's a genocidal goal and it's something that the Ukrainians take very seriously. They absolutely want their children back. They want accountability to the idea of there being any space for negotiation.

No leader in the world will tell you now that there's any real space because Putin hasn't shown the slightest bit of willing to sit down and obviously Ukraine has their red lines. I talked to the Secretary General of NATO, who's obviously in charge of keeping this alliance together, and to the idea of Putin waiting it out.

Well, he says Putin thought he could wait out the West, thought he could chip away at NATO's resolve, at the EU resolve, at the General G7 resolve, and he hasn't managed to do that.


AMANPOUR: So we just have to keep up the support for Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: And in fact, the opposite happened to some degree. NATO's bigger. It's not small ...


SCIUTTO: ... with the addition of Finland and the expected addition of Sweden as well. And that's one reason why I will often hear from U.S. officials that Putin has already lost his strategic objectives there. But he at least, as you know Kurt Volker, the perception is, has staying power, believes he has staying power for this war to last.

I want to leave on this question if I can, because I spoke to the British Foreign Secretary a short time ago and he said despite slow progress in the counteroffensive so far for Ukraine that Ukraine is still winning. I will say though that when I speak privately to U.S. officials, European officials, military commanders, they will say privately they don't see how Ukraine achieves all of its objectives in this war, kicking Russian forces out of all occupied territory. Do you see any genuine possibility of that?

VOLKER: Well, yes, I do. And I would remind viewers that what did our military and intelligence leaders say back in February of 2022, they said Ukraine would fall within three days, the Ukrainians wouldn't fight, the Russian forces were strong.

Here we are a year and a half later and Ukraine has taken back more than half of the territory that the Russians have taken and they continue to make progress in the south and the east today. So I don't think we should be writing off the Ukrainians on this.


And indeed I think the overall picture, the big picture when you take a step back, Ukraine survives as a sovereign independent country. Putin is driving Russia over a cliff. He is destroying their military forces, destroying their economy and he won't turn around. And I think this is going to cause some fundamental change inside Russia, we just don't know when or how, but it is not sustainable what they're doing.

SCIUTTO: To your point, I remember the first hours of the war, the U.S. intelligence assessment at the time was that Kyiv would fall in 72 hours. Of course it didn't. They have outlived expectations before.

Kurt Volker, thanks so much. Christiane, great to be here with you today.

Boris and Brianna, quite a day here and certainly quite a moment to hear those impassioned words from the Ukrainian president before the U.N. General Assembly.

SANCHEZ: A stark warning from Volodymyr Zelenskyy who is set to meet with officials here in the United States later in the week. We'll of course keep you posted on the latest developments there.

We want to focus now on an explosive rift that's developing between Canada and India. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that India's government may have been involved in the killing of a Sikh activist, a Canadian citizen, on Canadian soil.

KEILAR: He's brought this up with Indian officials, the Prime Minister directly, he says. But India is denying these allegations, calling the claims absurd. Both Canada and India now expelling senior diplomats from their respective countries, sending relations between the two plunging.

And then minutes ago, Trudeau said, "I'm not trying to provoke India, but I want answers."

Joining us now, we have CNN Global Affairs Analyst and Managing Editor for Military Times, Kimberly Dozier, who's with us.

What do you think about what's happening here? Where is this heading?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I am surprised that the Canadian leader has tried to dial it back after making those allegations because you can't say that to the Indian government and not expect a dramatic response. It's a matter of honor. It's a matter of reputation.

But also, the Indian government under Modi is rather thin-skinned when it comes to criticism. It has cracked down on and kicked out various outlets who publish critical things. This is going much further than a critical article. This is an accusation that the Indian government was behind killing a Sikh activist who was pushing for a Sikh independent nation within India.

Those are things that you can say inside India, but carefully. There are political parties that are pushing for that. But they are staying within the lines. Indian activists outside the country go a lot further. And of course, the allegation is that this person was taken out because of it.

SANCHEZ: The timing of this is interesting because it's happening as the UNGA is underway. And it's not long after the G20 wrapped in India at a time where Modi is trying to sort of reestablish India's place in the world order.

DOZIER: They must have a smoking gun. That's the only thing that you have to conclude that they've come out with this. But for some reason, they didn't expect Canada's - India's dramatic reaction. I think it's going to be hard to unwind this and it also is going to have a knock- on effect. Canada and India are in the middle of trade negotiations. We're working on a treaty to sign.

Now, that's going to be on hold for some time to come and Canada is part of the group of Western nations that needs India to offset China, at least economically. So the Canadian prime minister has chosen an interesting time to go public with this. He must have meant it. But I don't know if they anticipated the blowback.

KEILAR: Hey may need India, but he also needs Canadians of Indian descent.


KEILAR: I mean, this is very - very much an important part of the political bloc that is holding him up, right? This is a huge part of the population there, almost a million and a half people there in Canada. And Canada has gone so far as to say they believe that Indian intel is behind this and then kick out, yes, a diplomat, but someone who they basically think is India's top spy in Canada, right?

DOZIER: Those are the allegations. And this is going to cause a chill for some time to come. Like I said, you don't make these accusations unless you've really got the goods. So I'd be interested because Canada is in an intelligence relationship sharing with the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. They'll be able to see this intelligence, too. And that means that at some point the White House is also going to have to respond.

So far, they've said that they're concerned and they, too, want to get to the bottom of it, words to that effect. But this rift is going to run for a bit.

SANCHEZ: We will make sure to keep an eye on that story.

Kimberly Dozier, thank you so much.


KEILAR: And still to come, finally, on U.S. soil and free. The five Americans released after being wrongfully detained in Iran for years landed in the U.S. this morning. So what is next for them?

Plus, our Clarissa Ward gains exclusive access to the Wagner mercenary group operations in Africa following the death of its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. We'll have that just ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Five Americans freed from Iran arrived home to a warm reception in the United States this morning. Iran let them out of detention yesterday as part of a wider deal that included the release of five Iranian nationals detained in the United States and the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian funds strictly for humanitarian use.

One of the released Americans, Emad Shargi, was in near disbelief reuniting with his family.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How was the flight, sir?

EMAD SHARGI: Good. Yes, always good. I can't believe it. I just can't believe it. It's too long (inaudible) five and a half years.



SANCHEZ: Let's bring in CNN's Jennifer Hansler, who's been following these families and their struggles for years.

Jennifer, obviously, this means a great deal, not only to these prisoners, but their loved ones.

JENNIFER HANSLER, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT REPORTER: Yes, Boris. This was really an extraordinary moment that we saw this morning when those families were reunited in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, for the first time in years and years.

Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz who are the three Americans whose names we know, had been detained for more than five years. Siamak had been there since 2015 and their families had really become these powerful vocal advocates for their loved ones here in the United States. They met with members of Congress. They had rallies in front of the White House. They pushed to meet with President Biden.

All of these efforts were done to try to push the administration to do whatever it takes to bring their loved ones home. And that's ultimately what we saw play out here with this deal between the U.S. and Iran.

And now, one of the officials who was most involved in these efforts was Roger Carstens. He's the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. He was there in Doha yesterday when they flew out of Iran and met in the Qatari capital. He flew with them overnight back to the United States. And he was there for that emotional reunion this morning.

And this is what he told CNN earlier today about that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROGER CARSTENS, U.S. SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR HOSTAGE AFFAIRS: I can say I probably haven't cried this much since I was a little kid. It was a chance to watch five different people interact, seven people in total, interact in a way that was very amazing. I mean, this is the first time that they've had a chance to talk without being surveilled by the Iranian government in years.

So to watch them kind of relax, lighten up, share laughs.


HANSLER: Yes, so Roger said this was a really powerful moment. He encouraged all of the five returned detainees to take part in what's called PISA, the post-isolation support activities, to try to re- acclimate to their normal lives.

And one other thing he said, Boris, was that he was confident that these families were going to continue to push for the release of other Americans detained abroad. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Jennifer Hansler, thanks so much for the reporting. Brianna?

KEILAR: With Russia in the global spotlight at the U.N., we have some exclusive new reporting on the Kremlin's move to consolidate Wagner operations around the world. It's been almost a month since Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the mercenary group Wagner, died in a mysterious plane crash.

CNN's Clarissa Ward traveled to the Central African Republic, one of the world's poorest nations and one of Wagner's first operational sites on the continent, to see how Wagner's work and Russia's influence might be changing. We will have that story for you after a quick break.



KEILAR: Now to a CNN exclusive report, Clarissa Ward looks into Wagner's work and Russia's changing influence in Africa.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): In the Central African Republic, the message from Wagner is clear, it's business as usual.

Less than one month after their boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash, mass mercenaries still guard the president and cut an intimidating figure on the streets of the capital. Faces covered, as Wagner protocol dictates, they are unapproachable and untouchable. These are the first images of Wagner fighters in the country since Prigozhin's death.


WARD (on camera): It's clear they still are very much a presence here in Bangui.


WARD (voice-over): That presence runs deep. The markets are full of cheap sachets of vodka and beer made by a Wagner-owned company. The locals seem to like it.


WARD (on camera): (Speaking foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in a foreign language).

WARD (on camera): They say they don't drink French beer, only Russian beer.


WARD (voice-over): We've come back to the center of Prigozhin's empire in Africa right as his death raises questions for the regimes he protected and the mercenaries whose loyalty he inspired.

Our last visit was in Wagner's early days here - run like the mafia, providing guns and fighters, and propaganda in return for gold, diamonds and timber, using intimidation and brutality along the way.


WARD (on camera): That car full of Russians has been following us for quite some time. We don't know why. We don't know what they want.


WARD (voice-over): But in this lawless war-scarred country, one of the poorest in the world, that ruthlessness and the security it brought is celebrated by many.



WARD (on camera): Wow. That is quite the t-shirt.

GOUANDJIKA: Yes, a beautiful t-shirt.


WARD (voice-over): Presidential adviser Fidele Gouandjika says the nation is in mourning for Wagner's dead leader.


GOUADNJIKA: He was my friend. He was my friend. Best friend. A friend of all Central African people.

WARD (on camera): Why exactly was Mr. Prigozhin so popular here, in your mind?

GOUADNJIKA: Because our country was in war, so Mr. Putin give us soldier, Mr. Prigozhin.


WARD (on camera): So aren't you nervous, now that he's dead, that things might change?